New Mexico launches high school wastewater drug testing dashboard

Jan. 12, 2024
New Mexico has released the first set of results from its initiative to test public high schools’ wastewater for drugs and their metabolites.

New Mexico announced that it has released the first set of results of wastewater testing at public high schools on the Wastewater Drug Monitoring Dashboard.

The state’s Department of Health directed wastewater testing for drugs be conducted at public high schools as part of a public health order to address substance misuse in the state. The Department of Health issued the public health order after Gov. Lujan Grisham declared substance misuse a public health emergency in September.

“Knowledge is power, and having more data about the presence of illicit substances in schools informs our collaborative efforts at the school, community, and government levels,” said Grisham.

State officials stated that wastewater testing data will help to inform and hone strategies at every level of government going forward. The state also said it is working with schools and community partners to evaluate the data and take action to implement regional and statewide solutions.

To date, the Environment Department has collected samples at 89 schools throughout New Mexico. Additional results will be posted to the dashboard as they are received from the laboratory on a weekly basis. NMED stated that it will sample every public high school in the state.

Of the first 24 schools that were sampled, 88% tested positive for cocaine or its metabolite and 29% tested positive for fentanyl or its metabolite. Neither heroin nor its metabolite was found in any results.

Ninety-two percent of schools tested positive for methamphetamine or its metabolite. However, it is not possible to distinguish whether those were the result of legal drug use, such as ADHD medications, or illicit drug use like crystal meth.

Metabolites are the chemical compounds that drugs break down into after they are consumed. The human body metabolizes some of the drugs included in this effort very quickly, making them difficult to detect in wastewater unless they are flushed directly or consumed within a short period of time. Measuring both drugs and their metabolites provides additional evidence as to whether a drug has been consumed.

The results do not indicate how many individuals used drugs, the quantity of drugs consumed, where drugs were consumed (i.e. on or off school property), or whether the drugs were used by students, staff, or visitors. Schools where drugs were not detected could still have drug use within the campus community that were consumed on another day when testing did not occur.

"The Wastewater Testing Dashboard sheds light on a complex challenge facing our schools. Of particular note was the pervasive presence of cocaine in the sampling. That’s one area where we can improve communications with students right now as parents, school leaders and public health experts,” said Health Secretary Patrick Allen. “On the other hand, it’s clear that prevention efforts work: heroin was not detected in any of the schools so far. These results emphasize the importance of proactive measures, open communication with parents, and a united effort to safeguard our students."